The Secret to Getting an Internship in the US as an International Student

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • Networking is crucial for professional success.
  • Build genuine connections and focus on mutual benefit.
  • Join social or professional groups and engage in activities.
  • Utilize resources from universities, professors, and career centers.

Every year, thousands of students decide to do a semester abroad in the United States. The more extreme die-hard US university fans find themselves dedicating their whole degree in the United States with an F1 visa. Some students on the F1 visa might not know this, but the F1 visa allows international students to do an optional training program in the US, also known as an OPT program. To be able to do an internship in the United States is a huge opportunity for many students. However you might ask, how can one actually get an internship in the United States?

In this article we are going to present several options to you on how to best get into an OPT program.


Building relationships is the reason humans have been able to survive so long on this planet. We have been evolutionarily engineered to develop meaningful relationships with people who might be beneficial to our survival. Although it might sound a bit extreme, this is exactly what networking does for you in your professional life as well. Networking might not be a matter of life and death for your career, but it sure will have compounding effects on your professional path moving forward.

Networking helps you connect with people who want to help see you flourish and believe in your skills and capabilities. Any successful businessman knows the value of finding good talent to work on their team — so if someone assures a manager or director of how great you are, then your chances at landing the internship you want increases exponentially.

Not only is networking something that you want to do to increase your job prospects, it is also something people love to do because humans have the innate desire to help others. So it is actually a mutually beneficial act! People want to relate to the person they are helping and genuinely want to assist them with getting what they want. The more personal you are with the person extending an opportunity to you, the higher your chances are of actually making the most of it.

Do you need more examples of why you should start networking today? Just think about how you have landed jobs in your home-country. If networking played a part in it, then you can assume it works the same way in the US. Of course, you can apply and send hundreds of CVs and motivation letters, but let’s be real, how many companies will actually reply to you and invite you to an interview? If you are lucky, you will probably get 3 responses out of the hundreds and hundreds applications sent out. You can apply to hundred of jobs but if you really want to get one fast, your personal network counts.

So what does this mean you should do in your quest to land an internship in the United States? Make friends, build relationships, and start asking about opportunities once you have gained enough confidence within your network. Never look to exploit people, or search out relationships only because of what you might be able to get in return. Network the RIGHT way and be genuine about what you want and how you believe a person would be able to help you in the future. If you are already in the states and haven’t networked yet, you need to get started right away so you can increase your chances at an OPT program in the United States.

How to best network?

Go out there, make local and international friends, join events, sport groups, or any other activity you like doing which involves other people. The goal is to build professional or personal relationships, not only to get a job. Although it might seem like you are in it for yourself, networking will also open yourself up to people who are interested in learning about your culture. We go back to the importance of being genuine and making sure you are as authentic as possible. Just being friends with someone in order to get a good job, doesn’t make any sense and is rude. People will notice if you are only using them, so network carefully!. The goal here is to actually make friends who will get to know you so that they can then help you out in the long run. Building long-term friendships during your time abroad is the most effective way to set yourself up for success in your internship hunt. Just get out there, make friends, and have fun! The same way you would do at home.

Where can I find people to network with?

You can find people to network with anywhere where you are not alone. We recommend avoiding staying cooped up in your room so that you can be around people as much as possible. The best way to network with people is finding a place where you can share common interests. We recommend you join sports teams and social or professional organizations you are interested in to meet those who have things in common with you. At universities in the United States students often form special interest groups that meet up together once or twice a week. This would be a good place to get to know people. Make sure when joining an interest group or a sports team, that you do actually like it since you will need to know what you are talking about while you are at events. Don’t be sad if you don’t make friends right away because these things take time.

WIth enough socializing however, we are sure that you will make a ton of friends. Students in the United States tend to be open minded and interested in international students. There are even international American groups that you can join that try to integrate cultures and plan trips events for students abroad and Americans. After some time at your new university you will have a lot of friends and when the time comes for your OPT program, you will already have had established a strong network. So when you start looking for a job, don’t be shy and simply ask your friends if they know of places where you could go to do your internship. I am sure they will be happy to help and if they don’t know about any opportunities, they probably have other friends who do who could help you. Start spreading the word that you are looking for an internship and things will fall in place. One tip, try to be enthusiastic, open to learning and passionate about what you want to do when you talk to people about what kind of internship you are looking for.

Who else can I ask for internship opportunities?

All universities have an international student office that help students look for internships and career opportunities. We recommend you reach out to the resources available to you at your university because they might have openings ready in some companies for you. Other than that, you can simply ask your university professors for help. Professors will know you are an international student and will want to help you out. University professors tend to have large networks and are connected to local business and other companies. I am sure if you are attentive, hardworking and you listen during class, your professor will be happy to help you and recommend you to different companies.

Many university have “career centers” or online platforms where recruiters go to to find the best talent from universities in the United States. This could prove to be helpful for you and an easy way to see internship opportunities from university recruiters. Universities also have tons of networking events like job and career fairs that can be super useful for your networking goals. Some universities even have “internship” fairs so make sure you are aware of all the networking opportunities available to you at your university. This type of networking is a little less natural and requires you to have an elevator pitch ready about what you are looking for in an internship and how you can add value to a business. Practice these things and make sure to have a well-polished resume on hand to show off to the recruiters when they come visit you.

Do you have a Linkedin account? No? Then go make one right now! It is super easy to make and is the networking gold mine for those looking for jobs and opportunities in the United States. Linkedin is the manifestation of networking through an online platform. Start requesting connections in your Linkedin profile as soon as you start meeting people at your university. Someone’s connection might one day post a job opportunity on their wall and you will be that much closer to securing an OPT in the United States. Build a strong profile, and start sharing and posting on the site to make a name for yourself online. In this digital marketing age, even your skills need to be marketed online. So make sure you are growing your Linkedin network during your time at university.

We wish you all the best in finding an internship in the United States. If you have any further questions, please feel free to get in contact with us. If you want to share your networking experiences or have any recommendations for our readers, feel free to post them in the comments section below. We are all here to help each other! Good luck as you prepare to land the perfect OPT for yourself in the future!

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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